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South Africa prepares for the ultimate re-opening of tourism

Inbound international travel might still be a way off for South African tourism, but at last there's light at the end of the tunnel.
Image by rudragos from Pixabay
Image by rudragos from Pixabay

While the country remains very much in the grip of an unprecedented health crisis, things are slowly starting to change, and hope runs high in a country that relies on tourism for almost 3% of its GDP.

More important than that though, is the fact that over 1.5 million people are employed in this industry, with countless others relying indirectly on income from tourism.

Dark skies for SA tourism

It’s been a long, hard road for game reserves, airlines, tour operators, and accommodation providers.

Many have been unable to survive the unexpected shut down over the major Easter holiday season. Some have turned to alternative ways to survive by offering delivered meals, maintenance services, and accommodation for essential workers or quarantined patients.

The country’s on-again-off-again national airline is thrashing around in shallow waters. Smaller local carriers are limping along on what must be their last reserves and a small income from heavily discounted business flights.

At the moment passengers are getting Mango flights in South Africa at some of the lowest prices ever seen and other domestic airlines aren’t far behind with regard to fares.

Intra-provincial travel could be back on the cards

With provincial tourism back on board, the good news is that intra-provincial travel seems set to reopen for leisure purposes, and the ongoing State of Disaster can’t continue for much longer.

For now, the tourism industry holds its breath for these latest amendments to make their way onto the ever-growing list of disaster regulations.

So far, the changes to policy regarding tourism include:
  • A lessening of the evening curfew to 22h00 to help restaurants serve more customers in time for their employees to return home.
  • Individuals can travel for leisure within their home provinces only.
  • Corresponding accommodation facilities may open for leisure travel with no more than two people allowed per room. This excludes nuclear families i.e. two children and two parents per room.
  • Inter-provincial travel for leisure is still off the cards, but on the agenda.
  • Guided tours in open-top vehicles are allowed as are self-drive safaris to game reserves.
  • Some beaches are open but swimming in the ocean’s still not allowed.
For now, there’s no relief for in-home accommodation providers, like guest houses on the horizon though.

This tiny lessening of restrictions can’t make up for the loss of income from international tourists, but it is important as a means to prepare for the eventual return of foreign travellers.

Other tourism-dependent countries have taken this approach, so with no other example to follow, South Africa will follow suit.

This gradual re-opening of short local stays gives accommodation providers a chance to fine-tune their safety protocols while numbers are still low. The intricate balance between lives vs livelihoods remains a major issue for tourism.

This slow start-up to trade gives the industry time to streamline its health measures as well as gauge how the extra costs are going to affect their bottom line.

Will the easing of restrictions be enough to save tourism? Only time will tell. The one certainty is that when international tourism re-opens, South Africa will be ready.

6 Aug 2020 13:12